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Reconciling Karma, Compassion and Clinical Psychotherapy. By: Galeet Farrow (Gollan), M.A., LPC, ACS

Sympathy and empathy are quite different from the state of loving compassion. In sympathy, we are often feeling bad for the other, seeing their struggle and not accounting for their strength and their ability to overcome. This is the beginning stage of caring for others and understanding their experience. In sympathy, we’re somewhat pitying the person in their struggle, maybe even grateful we are not in that struggle ourselves and feeling a sense of unfairness at their plight. In empathy, we begin to really enter the other shoes, to see what their experience might feel like. We understand what they are going through and have feelings of wanting to help or alleviate their struggle. Loving- Compassion is a state of being which occurs with the opening of the fourth chakra (heart). The heart is able to feel into the others’ experience with love and care, yet also to feel into life and its own inherent fairness and love. In Loving-Compassion I can sit as witness without needing to change the experience of another. I can accept them exactly as they are, without also needing to change them. Yet, when called, I am also able to offer my best in service to their healing.

How do we look at a person’s human struggle and feel life’s fairness? Growing up we’ve all heard the saying “life isn’t fair”. What if it is? That’s exactly what the concept of karma suggests isn’t it? Now, before we jump off the deep end into this topic, let’s remember that even if life itself is fair, it is my job to remain in a compassionate and loving consciousness not to be judge, jury and executioner. I always like to consider that another’s struggle may partly exist for the opportunity of others to offer love, compassion and assistance.

How do we begin to understand karma? Let’s start with the multi-lifetime perspective. One cannot accept karma from the western mindset of Tabula Rasa or being born a blank slate. Anyone who has had a baby knows there are predilections from birth, traits, and tendencies, which as parents we witness the development of, from early on and into its fuller expression as the child ages. Another example of the presence of karma is that siblings raised in the same home have very different experiences or perceptions of their parents and their childhood. Our experience is partly external phenomenal, and partly internal perception, resulting in our experiential reality.

From a multi lifetime view, we create effects, ripples in reality. Our thoughts, feelings, intentions, and actions are all colored in the quality of their truth. If they are of kind and loving intentions, they have a certain quality, a color or flavor if you will. If the intention is selfish, this will have a very different stench. Yet the action could be the same in both cases. For example, I could offer to help the old lady across the street because I see she is struggling, and I simply want to help. Alternatively, I could see it as an opportunity to do a good deed and gain spiritual favor. Another possibility is, I could do it because others are watching, and I want to create a good reputation or want to impress someone. Lastly, I could do it because that lets me get close enough to pick pocket her. All of these actions are the same- helping the old woman across the street, and yet they have very different internal motivations, they create a different resonance.

“Energy can not be created nor destroyed”, this is a foundation of western scientific thought. When a person dies, we can see that the life, the isness, the animating factor, has left the body- the energy is no longer there activating the material being. Where does this energy go? Does the life it led matter? Does the residue of its actions stick to the energy in some way?

If we broaden our lens quite a bit and begin to see life itself as a singular organism, a singular consciousness, we can understand that this law of karma may be just the very fact of the organism we are- it is simply what we are and how we work. Often, when discussing karma, we see ourselves as being rewarded or punished from an outside source. Or we believe life is a complete accident and thus all events are random and meaningless, other than the meaning we place on it. I want to offer a third possibility. What if we, as an organism, simply are in such a way, that karmic response is just part of how this works, part of what we are, what life itself is. Learning these rules of life, or rules of Self- how we operate, can help us to navigate more efficiently. What if karma is simply our own need to make it right, to correct the ways we have harmed ourselves. When we see life itself as a singular organism, then any harm done to others is actually harm done to the self- there no longer are “others”.

I would go further to say that life itself, our true nature, is one of love, and so even in the karmic balancing, it must also be the most loving experience for us to have. Somehow, the learning we experience through our struggles is also the most loving experience that can happen for our own healing, not punishment. In other words, there’s no karma that says, “you’re bad”, it is not a punishment of you did this, so in a tit-for-tat fashion this is done to you. Rather, whatever you did not understand, whatever harm was caused from ignorance in your perception, is not only paid back, but healed within you such that you no longer have that ignorance- you are also healed in the process. The eventual return to a state of loving compassion in our consciousness is occurring as we walk through the karmic lessons we’ve created. Within the seed of the karma created was the lesson that was needed in order to return to wholeness. When we look at life from this perspective, then everything happening is exactly what needs to happen, is fair and is teaching us and loving us back to wholeness.

What about catastrophes? Traumas? Wars? Are we victim-blaming and saying people deserved what happened to them?

I don’t think I am ever going to be comfortable saying a person deserved a trauma. However, I do hold a certain lens, that when we look at our human history, there has been a lot of violence, killing, rape, colonialism etc. From a multi-lifetime view we probably have all taken part in some type of harmful behavior against others. However, it’s also possible a person has had a trauma that is unresolved, something that they are carrying from lifetime to lifetime, and, in a sense, keeps recreating because they have not been able to release it and return to wholeness. It is as if that memory has the quality of stickiness to it. In this case, it is not that the person has a negative karma that must be paid, but rather, they must rectify the situation and somehow choose to return to wholeness. Yet, the memory of the trauma is so strong that this groove keeps being recreated, which keeps bringing this experience into the present as an attempt and opportunity to work it out. We see this inherent in human behavior; a child who has witnessed domestic violence will often take dolls and recreate the violence. They may even grow up to perpetrate the same. A woman who is raped may engage in consensual but unwanted sexual experiences following the rape, as she is attempting to work out the powerlessness she experienced. This recreation doesn’t always work, in fact it can retraumatize us over and over, and yet it is a sort of compulsive reaction we see in humans to traumatizing experiences.

To take this even a step further, rarely does someone become an abuser who isn’t themselves abused. This starts to get at the multi-generational trauma phenomenal. Yet, it is only a small percentage of those abused who ever become abusers. Just like it is only a percentage of those who are abused who will develop PTSD symptomology. I say this to illustrate that beyond what has happened to us lies what we do with it, how we process it, release it, and use it on our path to return to wholeness.

It is interesting to notice that often the outcome of severe experiences can create a resolution in the soul. For example, many people who undergo a serious illness, like cancer, will reflect that it changed them in ways they needed to be changed. Sometimes these are health related actions, in which the person is forced to do what they’ve known they needed to do. Other times it could be the emotional reality of having faced death that re-prioritizes their lives and opens their hearts.

In another vein of thinking, we often have parents who may not be what we needed, who are hurtful to us in our sensitive developmental years. What if the parent is displaying a behavior we have chosen in a previous existence? Is this not the clearest way to learn and understand why this is not the right way to live? From the child’s perspective, fresh on this earth and with a heart full of love, it is extremely clear why this way of being is not whole. The lesson has been seen with the clarity of the eyes of innocence and love.

We cannot know the reasons for what a person is experiencing. There is a humble place to remember we could never conceive of the grandest perspective, the ultimate understanding of all lifetimes and karmas and outcomes. It is never for me to say- you must have deserved that; yet I do see the importance and purpose in our experiences of life with a sense of trust in the larger perspective. This touches on Victor Frankl who wrote about the importance of finding meaning in one’s experience.

Arguably, time is not as linear as we experience it. I have questioned if I am paying future karmas, or if I am suffering for spiritual freedom. It is not always clear cut and would be arrogant to assume my human mind can conceive of it. Thus, as I see it, my role, as a fellow human, is to witness what each person is working through from a multi lifetime view and offering my loving compassion along the way. I carry a perspective that any human condition could be my own. Any mistake a human has made, no matter how ugly, given the right set of circumstances could also be I. From this view there is no judgment, just us learning together and growing through this human experience into the higher consciousness hidden within our potential.

From the multi-lifetime view, death is to be feared less then how we handle this life; the choices, motives and intentions become more meaningful than we tend to imagine. While it can be a hard pill to swallow, sitting with the possibility that the struggles we have had may indeed be needed, and even possibly deserved, for our highest evolution. Through the process of acceptance that it may in fact be fair, we can come into a new level of responsibility in our lives, in this moment, with the choices at hand. We can also relinquish the feelings of resentment or mistrust at the unfairness of life.

Often times we get stuck after hard experiences in this feeling of mistrust with life- bad things happened and it was not fair. Sometimes we can’t seem to process our experiences and alchemize the growth from them, instead they turn sour as we sit in resentment of life’s events. The act of acceptance, that there is something important to learn or let go of here, can allow some people to release their anger and find a sense of peace in this existence. Life itself is evolving, moving itself slowly into full expression in physical form. Along the way, we struggle through the potential pitfalls of existing in this density of matter, forgetting ourselves as a consciousness and becoming consumed in the ego-based existence. We then cause and receive various forms of harm and may face many difficult events. It is when we forget that we are inside this matter and believe this body to be what we truly are that the process gets halted. In this forgetful state we experience great suffering, as whatever happens to this body and its residual feelings is experienced as the totality of self. This separation between the Self as witness and the body-mind experience helps to develop a reservoir of safety from within. An important aspect of growth and evolution is learning to let go of hurtful experiences and not allow them to get in the way of what we are here to do- which is to LIVE and live joyfully!

Trust is the quintessential ingredient humans need here on earth. In Chakra theory, we see this in the first chakra needs, yet this is echoed in every developmental theorist particularly Maslow and Erikson. From the moment we are born we are looking for safety, to know our mother is warm and safe and milk will flow. It is this same relationship we have with life itself. When we feel that unfair and accidental things can happen that harm us and yet are meaningless, it makes the world a very scary and unpredictable place to be. While it is difficult to accept some experiences as necessary- either to balance the karma or to show us something we have to let go of, it allows us to have a sense that life makes sense, is fair and is not accidental and random.

Inherent in every experience is the potential to remind us of who we truly are, as a consciousness in this body. As we take a distance and witness the body-mind system, we move closer to fully taking the wheel of our life. Through increasing self-mastery, we move towards the realization of our responsibility to properly use the free will inherent in this lifetime and become determined to drive towards goodness, kindness and ultimately freedom.

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